A letter from David Cortes-Fuentes and Josefina Saez-Acevedo serving in Cuba
February 2016 – Arrival in Cuba
Dear Ones in Christ,
Hola desde la histórica ciudad de Matanzas, Cuba! Greetings from the historic city of Matanzas, Cuba! It has been exactly one month since we arrived at the Seminario Evangélico de Teología (SET) in Matanzas. We hope to share with you all the adventures of the four-year appointment we are just beginning. First, we already see that the church in Cuba is alive and growing!
Our journey from the United States to Matanzas has been several years in the making. We spent much time in discernment, had to make difficult decisions, and we are convinced of our call to this ministry at this time and this place.
After several months of preparation we boarded a charter flight from Tampa, Florida, on a very early morning in January. The flight to Cuba lasted exactly one hour (so close and yet so distant). Flying low as we approached the José Martí International Airport, the sight of the lush green landscape evoked memories of Puerto Rico, our home for several years. We were greeted by Jo Ella Holman, PC(USA) mission co-worker and regional liaison for the Caribbean. It was great to see a familiar face!
What a difference a day makes! After leaving behind several inches of snow in Louisville, Ky., stepping into the moist and sunny Caribbean was amazing. Amazing too was it to actually see those 1950s cars that everyone speaks about still running. After a brief stop for Cuban coffee at the airport, our driver, Héctor, got us on our way to Matanzas and the seminary. It took about one hour and 45 minutes through a pretty good highway system. For part of the trip we hugged the coastline, watching the palm trees go by. At other times we drove through the outskirts of cities. From time to time we encountered a horse-pulled cart filled with people traveling. We saw lots of people on foot, waiting for the bus or a “botella” (a “ride” for hitchhikers) to get where they needed to be.
Once we neared the city of Matanzas we crossed the main bridge, which took us to the center of city. Matanzas is surrounded by water everywhere; the Yumurí, San Juan, and Canimar rivers border the city and then spill into Matanzas Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The view from the hilltop where the Seminary is located is spectacular! From time to time we can see small fishing boats at the mouth of the river in the bay. Because many bridges connect the various communities to the center of the city, Matanzas is known as the “City of Bridges.”
Matanzas is alive and vibrant with the arts (music, photography, painting, and dance). With its history and culture Matanzas is known as the “Athens of Cuba.” Recently we attended an exposition at an art gallery in Matanzas where “Chuchi,” a young photographer who is the publications director at the seminary, was showing his work. His photography has won him many awards both locally and internationally. The art gallery is located in a beautifully restored building used to support local art in its many forms.
After three intense days of meetings, it was time to start settling into our apartment. Our accommodations are clean and simple. We have two bedrooms (one we use as our office/library), a kitchen, one bath, a dining area, and a living room area. We’re glad that we have lots of windows that permit cross ventilation for those very hot and humid days to come. So far it has been cool and breezy—more than usual, the locals say—but we just love it. Wearing a light jacket early in the morning and at night suits us just fine. None of our windows has screens, so the mosquitos are having a field day with Josey! We are using lots of bug repellent, especially at dusk, when the mosquitoes bite the most. Never thought we would say this: thank goodness that almost every night we are visited by small lizards or salamanders in the house, waiting to catch their daily ration of insects!
Usually our meals are taken with the students and staff of the seminary. This has given us the opportunity to sit at the table, share about our lives and get to know each other. We have gotten to conversing about everything. They ask what the U.S. is like and why we decided to leave it all behind. The students that we have come to know in this short time have shown us that our commitment to be here is nothing compared to their commitment they show every day by serving the church and their communities in spite of great financial and material constraints. All of them gladly say: “Here I am, Lord!”
Life in the seminary is full of action. Visiting groups come and go continuously. Many PC(USA) congregations have historic partnerships with the seminary. Also there are groups from Living Waters for the World, from Canadian churches and colleges, and scholars from Korea. An Episcopalian delegation from Puerto Rico stopped by the seminary on their way to Havana for their Latin American Synod meeting, and more than 200 Cuban Baptists are having their assembly at the seminary. What a busy place!
In addition to the regular academic schedule, there are many “Jornadas” (theological symposia), lectures by visiting scholars from around the world, short-term “encuentros” (encounters) and colloquia. The faculty and students could not be more committed to their ministries.
The faculty is very active in the life of local churches. For instance, even the rector of the seminary pastors a local church in Matanzas, the dean is the moderator of the Synod, and the students travel to lead worship at local churches on weekends.
The challenges are many, the work is hard, the dedication of our colleagues here is beyond question, and hope keeps everyone’s heart pumping. We are so thankful for the many people who pray for us, for our ministry, and for the whole Church in Cuba. The many visits from friends and supporters encourage everyone.
Your financial support for our ministry is a great encouragement to us as we begin our ministry at the seminary and begin to build relationships with the churches here. Thank you! We continue to raise up before you our need for financial support for these next 3 years and 11 months. To those of you already supporting us with your prayers and gifts, we are so grateful!
As we prepare for the new trimester that begins in March, and as we begin to receive invitations from local churches and church organizations, we are ever mindful that this is a partnership. Because you are our partners in ministry, please let us know how we can pray for you and journey alongside you as well. We want to hear from each of you! Echoing the blessing for the people of Israel in Numbers 6:24-26: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”
David & Josey
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